Last updated: 12:44 PM ET, Fri June 05 2015

Travel's Apple

Apple Leisure Group's Alex Zozaya talks about the company's resort strategy

Vacation Agent | Hotel & Resort | Brian Major

Travel's Apple

PHOTO: Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya. (Courtesy of Apple Leisure Group)

No company is expanding faster in the Caribbean than Philadelphia-based Apple Leisure Group. The firm’s vertical integration strategy encompasses travel agencies, tour operators, an online travel agency and six separate resort brands, with nearly all focused on the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

At the head of the organization is a particularly outspoken leader. In recent years, Apple Leisure Group CEO Alex Zozaya has challenged destination and government officials in the Caribbean and Mexico to operate like his own company: opportunistic, aggressive and committed to expansion.

We spoke recently with Zozaya to hear the latest on his company’s particular approach to Caribbean tourism development.

Apple Leisure Group’s AMResorts operates several resort brands, including Dreams, Zoëtry, Secrets, Breathless and more. Why so many brands? Are there that many traveler markets?

When we set out to launch AMResorts, we wanted to redefine the all-inclusive concept overall to appeal to the North American traveler. This meant doing away with wristbands and reservations [and] providing high-quality food and beverage options, including multiple à la carte dining options.

Our innovative approach to the all-inclusive industry drove us to create unique brands, with each targeting a specific segment of the market. We have six brands: Zoëtry Wellness & Spa Resorts, and Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Now and Sunscape Resorts & Spas.

Our innovative approach to the all-inclusive industry drove us to create unique brands, with each targeting a specific segment.

The two brands we most recently created are examples of the need to differentiate to gain market share. We launched Breathless Resorts & Spas in 2013 to address the segment of the adults-only market that wants an active, social, chic vacation experience.

When we were considering adding to our family-friendly portfolio, we identified a segment that has been mostly overlooked by all-inclusive resorts: families with pre-teens or teenagers. We developed Now Resorts & Spas to address this specific market, and the programming at these resorts reflects this.

A large group of travelers still views all Caribbean and Mexican destinations as similar, offering the same sea, sand and sun. How can Caribbean destinations stand out from one another?

The culture, local attractions and cuisine of each destination are what demonstrate how different these destinations are from one another. Differentiation among the Caribbean islands helps drive rates and encourages guests to extend the length of their stay.

Travelers only need to take a short flight to have a completely different experience. Driving awareness of the different attributes of each destination not only helps guests make the right choice in where to visit, but it is also more profitable for each destination.

We strive to give guests opportunities to venture out from the resort to enjoy the local culture, as we know that having an authentic experience sets vacations apart. More and more guests want to visit a nearby city, experience natural attractions or learn more about the destination at a historic site.

Our destination management company, Amstar DMC, provides a full slate of excursions at each of our resorts so guests may easily enjoy the resorts’ surroundings.

Cuisine also varies greatly between destinations in the Caribbean and across Mexico. We’re careful to include these local touches in the menus at our all-inclusive resorts.

What additional plans does AMResorts have for expansion in the Caribbean and Mexico? How large is your current network?

The Caribbean and Mexico continue to be priority markets for AMResorts. We currently have 37 resorts across all six of our brands in Cancun and Riviera Maya, Mexico; Los Cabos, Mexico; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Curaçao; Costa Rica; and Huatulco, Mexico, to name a few. We have 10 more resorts scheduled to open in the next three years, including our first resort in Aruba, Zoëtry Isla di Oro Aruba, which will open in 2018, and our first two properties in Panama, the first of which will open in December 2015.

You’ve said only 12 million Caribbean tourists are generated annually by a primary market of 300 million North Americans. How can Caribbean suppliers and destinations increase arrivals?

The convenience of traveling to the Caribbean, the value guests receive for their money, the beauty of the destinations and the great, authentic experiences available will continue to drive new tourists to the region. Offering guests the option to be able to connect back home while away is also imperative to keep attracting travelers.

Another important factor to continue driving travelers is increasing and improving the flight options to the Caribbean from the U.S. and between the different islands. This will help encourage longer stays and give travelers more opportunities to experience the region. Apple Leisure Group is responsible for bringing every two out of 10 North American travelers to the Caribbean. An important factor that helps us deliver this volume of passengers is that we sell the complete experience. From booking through one of our tour operators, to AMResorts property, to destination management company, to experiencing the local surroundings, we conveniently include it all for our guests.

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Vacation Agent Magazine

A version of this article appears in print in the June 2015 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.